While Genova’s Still Alice stars Alzheimer’s disease, Inside the O’Briens gives the reader an intimate view of what Huntington’s Disease does to a body — and a family. It’s a sad book — while Huntington’s affects only a fraction of the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s, it’s still a wretched disease and one that’s not particularly well-known or understood. I’ve heard of it, but I also watch a lot of medical dramas. Huntington’s is also 1000% fatal, usually within about 10 years of diagnosis.
“As they lurch down the hallway and finally make it to the kitchen, it occurs to Joe that this is the best anyone can hope for in life. Someone you love to stagger through the hard times with.”
Joe O’Brien spent his whole life knowing that his mother, Ruth, drank herself to death. When he starts experiencing same symptoms she had, while in his mid-40s, many people assume the same thing. But Joe doesn’t really drink — and he can’t figure out why he’s slowly losing control of his body. His neurologist diagnoses him with Huntington’s, a genetic disease in which the body’s muscles deteriorate and rebel. The genetic component means that each of his 4 children has a 50% chance of possessing the same gene. And while there’s a test to find out — do they want to?
The book is well-written and very touching at times. The perspective alternates between Joe and his youngest daughter, Katie. We find out there’s more to his family than this diagnosis, and as we learn more and more about each person, we learn how and why they react to the news of Joe’s disease. Genova set the novel in Boston, and both the city and the O’Brien’s Catholicism play a heavy part in the story.